South Sudan: Human Rights Deterioration and Possible Consequences

BY: Jwothab Othow, RSS, DEC/28/2012, SSN;

The purpose of this paper is to examine and identify the major human rights violations and their consequences that have occurred in South Sudan within the last 8 years since 2005. As citizens of South Sudan, we are deeply concerned about the deterioration in the rule of law in the country since the attainment of independence has raised questions on the fundamental principles of human rights. It has become common knowledge that the framework for establishing the rule of law in South Sudan has fallen short of the expectations of citizens and the international community.

The alleged extensive killings, disappearances, media harassment, detentions and torture were carried out by the government of South Sudan’s security forces. As we all know that human rights violation is an unlawful deprivation of individual rights considered inherent to all humans. Perpetrators of human rights violations within the security forces used numerous tactics of repression, with both physical and psychological consequences.

The government of South Sudan must be held accountable for human rights violations against it citizens and it is crucial as a deterrent, in order to ensure that these violations are not repeated. Therefore, by international law South Sudan is obligated to effectively investigate suspected breaches of human rights and prosecute those responsible. For example, we have witnessed what happened recently in Wau town whereby SPLA soldiers were killing peaceful protesters. Nine civilians were reportedly killed and several wounded. South Sudan must be held responsible for the protection of their citizens and therefore what is happening in Wau is not acceptable and the government of South Sudan must be held responsible for failing to protect its citizens.

On December 4, 2012, Isaiah Abraham was killed in his home in Juba by unknown gunmen. On December 17, 2012, Lawrance Korbandy who is the chairperson of the South Sudan Human Rights Commission (SSHRC) called for the resignation of security ministers due to the killing of innocent civilians across the country, and in the capital, Juba, in particular; and to allow investigations into the death of Isaiah Diing Abraham Chan Awuol to take place fairly. Gen. Oyai Deng Ajak who is the National Security Minister expresses his concern that, “I will not accept to work for an institution which kills people.”

One of the most difficult things for civilized people to comprehend is that these wicked barbaric acts of cruelty were not the actions of psychopaths, but soldiers. Their “enemy” was not an invading army from foreign borders, nor were they fighting for freedom against a repressive racist regime; the vast majority of the “enemy” was their fellow South Sudanese. This is a clear human rights violation of the fundamental right of freedom of expression and assembly.

According to Amnesty International in it reports on South Sudan human rights violations that time has come for accountability. There are assaults on the media, the political opposition, civil society activists, and human rights defenders; these are important components needed for a democratic society to prevail.

According to European Press Photo Agency reports on November 21, 2012 who visited the South Sudan two prisons: Rumbek Central Prison and Juba Central Prison which was built in 1948 by the British colonial government, Rumbek Central Prison houses some 600 prisoners who live in overcrowded cells with practically no access to basic health care, sanitation, as well as adequate food and nutrition. Many detainees have no legal representation and South Sudan has no functioning legal aid system. Many are also vulnerable to illness and diseases, which they rarely receive proper care, unless they can pay for medicine themselves. Ten inmates died in Aweil prison and at least five died in Bentiu prison in 2011 alone, most of treatable illnesses, according to Human Rights Watch (HRW).

Arbitrary detention is widespread in South Sudan, according to HRW in its 2012 report. Conditions in South Sudan’s prisons evidently do not comply with international or domestic law or standards on prisoners’ welfare. South Sudan’s human rights deterioration could possible result in serious consequences against the government of South Sudan and possible isolation by the international community if it fails to improve its human rights conditions. It is also disturbing that United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) seemed to have failed to fulfill its responsibility to observe human rights violations carried out by the elements of SPLA in South Sudan since the country gained independence.

The whole world was shocked by the atrocities and abuses which were committed by SPLA in the Chollo (Shilluk) Kingdom in 2010. According to Aljazeera report which was broadcasting the video report on the Television network; it was clear that there have been serious human rights abuses against the civilian population in the name of so-called disarmament program in Chollo (Shilluk) Kingdom. The government of South Sudan’s security forces committed a range of human rights violations despite the presence of UNMISS in South Sudan to monitor and report human rights abuse both in Chollo Kingdom and Jongeli states. In 2010, the SPLA army clearly committed war crimes and crimes against humanity in Shilluk Kingdom where Shilluk men and women were targeted as a result of Robert Gwang’s rebellion, women were raped and men severely tortured or killed.

The women were raped by SPLA soldiers to dehumanize them and as a form of punishment for their male family members, as rape not only humiliates the person raped but also the whole family and their community. It is clearly based on the evidence of ongoing human rights abuses against civilians in the Chollo Kingdom during the so-called disarmament. The element of Padang Dinka’s elites within the SPLM ruling party orchestrated their agenda to grab Chollo land using Robert Gwang’s rebellion as an excuse. Until now, the SPLA forces who committed odious war crimes and crimes against humanity have not been brought to justice.

Since the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, the government of South Sudan under the leadership of President Salva Kiir has been engaged in extrajudicial and other unlawful killings; arbitrary arrest, torture; harassment on the media, and inhuman treatments or punishments against its citizens and those who are critical against his government. Arbitrary arrest and indefinite detention without trial is against international law and it is a serious violation of human rights. South Sudan’s security agents have been carrying out killings of civilians and journalists; e.g. a political commentator who are critical to the government and questioned the unconstitutional practices of the security forces.

South Sudan Security forces routinely commit political violence, including torture of citizens in custody, particularly in areas suspected of support for the opposition. For example, on July, 7, 2011, the SPLM-DC leader of opposition in South Sudan Legislative Assembly (SSLA) and Deputy Chairman of SPLM-DC was harshly beaten by the SPLA Military Intelligence.

The government of South Sudan must reform it security forces because continuation of these abuses such as extrajudicial arbitrary arrest, indefinite detention without trial, torture, harsh prison conditions; restrictions on freedom of speech, the press, freedom of assembly, association; prevention of international human rights observers and discrimination against women and child abuse could lead to more deterioration of human rights abuses that will damage the nation creditability in the international community which could result in sanctions against South Sudan and isolation from the international community. If the South Sudan government wants a sustainable peace and to be part of the international community it must respect human rights and should demonstrate its commitment to international law by carrying out full thorough investigations into human rights violations nationwide. According to HRW researchers who have met scores of people sent to prison by chiefs who had no formal legal training, for crimes that do not appear in South Sudan’s criminal code.

South Sudan government should prosecute those responsible for any criminal acts within it security agency. According to HRW that, “The government of South Sudan should send a strong and clear message that it will not allow soldiers to abuse civilians or fail to protect them during clashes.” For example, the SPLA carried out operations against militia allegedly linked to SPLM-DC in Fashoda County, committing serious human rights abuses in the process. The SPLM leaders who are perpetrators for the crimes committed against civilians and are criminally responsible as are both military and political leaders who participated to implementing the policy that instigated tribal violence among the communities and human rights violations.

President Salva Kiir could be qualified for criminal liability as a leader and under whose administration crime which has been committed against civilians populations. South Sudanese civilians found themselves the target of mass atrocities at the hands of the government of South Sudan and SPLA forces.

The international community and regional and sub-regional bodies must act now to protect the populations. Call for SPLM/A to be held accountable for human rights violations against civilians. Since the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) was signed in 2005, civilians have been at risk of mass atrocities in the hands of SPLA forces. As we have witness the recent killing by SPLA forces shooting at protesters and peaceful demonstration in Wau. The government of South Sudan must uphold the responsibility to protect civilians. The SPLA armed forces and their leaders expressed clear intent to continue committing massive human rights violations against the civilians in South Sudan.

The SPLM ruling party are responsible for manufacturing ethnic conflict between the communities in South Sudan since 2005 as result of SPLM policy of provoking ethnic violence where it will remain free from challenge in the political arena. Until now the government of South Sudan has not addressed the land dispute between Shilluk and Padang Dinka communities that has turned violent on several occasions in recent year”s alienated Shilluk communities according to HRW.

According to Amnesty International Executive Director, Suzanne Nossel, who made the following comments in response to reports that the international hip hop artist and human rights advocate Emmanuel Jal had been seriously beaten by South Sudan police in Juba. His account of an unprovoked attack, preceded by the seizure of his mobile phone, must be immediately investigated and all those responsible must be held accountable. “We further call on the authorities to ensure that Jal is able to move freely and in safety while in South Sudan. Jal has been a dedicated advocate for peace and security in the region for years. His early years as a child soldier had made him extraordinarily credible as an advocate to prevent the use of children as soldiers worldwide to support the establishment of a global arms trade treaty and to defend human rights.”

The government of South Sudan must comply with international law and investigate all abuses by it security forces and end “horrific acts of violence” by security forces against it citizens. As a consequence South Sudan must and should address the atrocities committed against civilians by South Sudan’s security forces.

South Sudan civil society has been weakening due to consistent harassment and intimidation by security forces and its leader Mr. Deng Athuai Mawiir Rehan was once abducted and beaten badly. Also it is undeniable that the notions of tribal politics in South Sudan has weakened and divided the organizations such as civil society and the media to prevent them from taking a united concerted action against the repressive regime due their tribal loyalties. These organizations are important components and a cornerstone in the society to maintain social peace and defend human rights in South Sudanese society.

It is my sincere belief that if South Sudan is to be great, it must live up to her ideals for freedom, equality and justice for all. It must continue to fight against tribalism in order to succeed in her pursuits for an inclusive society that is base on the principle of equality for all, democracy, freedom, justice, human rights and lasting peace. South Sudanese must and should understand that tribalism is the most divisive and destructive element in our nation’s social fabric future.

South Sudan’s government has clearly failed to stop the security forces that have been committing these horrific acts of violence against its citizens. President Salva Kiir promised during an independence-day speech to respect and ratify human rights treaties. He also signed into force a new constitution that proclaims the country to be founded on justice, equality, and respect for human dignity and guarantees rights to due process, physical integrity, and protection from unlawful deprivations of liberty.

According to Human Rights Organization that, “The abuses committed by the government of South Sudan, including lack of the rule of law and lack of respect for the basic human rights. Arbitrary arrests by South Sudan’s Security Services targeting vocal journalists and active members of civil society are widely becoming a public concern these days in South Sudan.” Mr. Deng Athuai Mawiir Rehan who is the chairperson of South Sudan’s Civil Society Alliance was abducted in June and tortured because of Alliance’s outspokenness towards just and democratic governance including a fight against corruption in South Sudan. No group has been found responsible although the government had promised to conduct investigations to establish who was behind the kidnapping.

It is undeniable that the South Sudan government continues to use repression and intimidation to silence human rights advocates and to prevent them from exposing abuses and promoting respect for human rights. South Sudan authorities continued to stifle the media by arresting, detaining, and prosecuting journalists reporting on sensitive topics, and extra judicial killing and torture.
The government of South Sudan has failed to investigate the ongoing cycle of violence in Jonglei state, and to stop the violations committed in the course of civilian disarmament, and ensure that those responsible are held accountable. Lack of accountability for serious crimes is a longstanding problem in South Sudan, a country with limited law enforcement capacity and a vast territory.

President Salva Kiir has promised in many occasions to investigate the crime which has been committed by security forces and he has established a committee to investigate the violence and identify those responsible but nothing has been done until now. Freedom of speech is a fundamental human right and the government of South Sudan must ensure to respect and protect freedom of expression. According to Africa director of HRW, “South Sudan is a new country and badly needs an effective justice system that upholds human rights and dignity. It is a fundamental building block for establishing rule of law and accountability.”

Most of South Sudanese ruling elites within the SPLM party still behave as if they are still operating as guerrillas and not knowing they are no longer a guerrilla but statehood and they are require by the international law to comply with the international law as member of the international community. It is very important to highlight the series of human rights abuses in chronological order for the readers to understand the extent of serious human rights violations in South Sudan.

May 15, 2012, the police in Lakes State’s capital Rumbek arrested Ms. Ayak Dhieu Apar, the Radio Rumbek 98 FM journalist. She was detained for hosting a live radio talk show with the title, “How Could the Public Respect the Police?” which drew in callers, questioning the conduct and competence of the police.

February 06, 2012, Mading Ngor Akech, the New Sudan Vision Editor-in-Chief and the host of the popular ‘Wake Up Juba’ show on Bakhita FM was assaulted and humiliated at South Sudan’s parliament. According to a journalist who witnessed the scuffle in the August House, Mr. Mading “was manhandled by the security guys who tore his trousers to the extent of nearly exposing his underpants to the public.”

On June of 2012, Mayol Kuch, a South Sudanese American who was on a family visitation in South Sudan, was detained and beaten to death by SPLA soldiers in Bor, Jonglei State. The soldiers suspected him of having participated in “the violence that followed disputed elections in the village for chief of the Adol community” in which two people lost their lives. The case is yet to be solved, two months after it occurred.

In 2007, Nhial Bol Aken was arrested after his newspaper exposed “wasteful spending at the finance ministry, which purchased 153 cars for government officials.” According to Aljazeera, the price tag was $60 million, a staggering $400,000 per vehicle. On June 12, 2011, just before South Sudan independence, Mr. Nhial Bol “was arrested again on his way from a dinner party organized by the British Consulate in Juba at a hotel called Da Vinci, south of Juba’s main town and was threatened to back down from his activity or risk dying before July 9,” South Sudan Independence Day.

On October 1, 2011, Mr. Bol was arrested for the fourth time by police before being released “following his newspaper’s investigations into the business dealings” of a Warrap state minister, Joseph Malek Arop, who was reported to have unlawfully acquired 10% stake in the Chinese oil company, Tesco South Sudan Ltd.

Many South Sudanese citizens had publicly expressed opinions critical toward the government behavior whereby the state security continues to intimidate citizens who criticize the government and routinely arrest those who are critical of the government. The South Sudan security services have also to stop their brutality against the citizens of South Sudan that violated basic human rights and systematically denied civil society activists the right to peacefully assemble and associate.

South Sudan’s ongoing massive oil corruption which has benefited the political and military leaders within the SPLM/A led government for the last 8 years. They have been smuggling out of the country billions of dollars while leaving millions of South Sudanese facing severe food shortages and are dependent on emergency international assistance. The whole world is now aware that the SPLM’s ruling elite is corrupt and are profiting from the country’s oil exports at the expense of the poor. It is apparent that Kiir’s administration encourages and harbors those who have stolen billions of dollars from the people of South Sudan and they have never been arrested or prosecuted for corruption charges.

We know very well that when South Sudanese from all walks of life took up arms in 1983 against oppressors in Khartoum, people did not fight the war only to benefit the ruling elites or bourgeois at the end who are now the ones enjoying the benefit of freedom after South Sudan has gained its independence on July 9, 2011, which was fought by all the people. The US and European Union should maintain travel restrictions as well as freeze the assets on President Kiir and his inner circle until South Sudan carries out concrete human rights and institutional reforms.

You can go on and on, for example, Dengdit Ayok and Ngor Arol Garang of The Destiny Newspaper were forcefully detained on November 05, 2011, over a column article in The Destiny written by Dengdit Ayok, questioning the rationale behind President Kiir’s daughter’s marriage to a foreigner. As reported by the Committee to Protect Journalists, Gen. Akol Koor, the Director General of the South Sudan’s National Security Services, faulted the two gentlemen of “non-adherence to the media code of conduct and professional ethics and of publishing illicit news that was defamatory, inciting, and invading the privacy of personalities.”

In the same way Dr. James Okuk a former ambassador to Brazil was arrested on October 21, 2011, for allegedly “writing against President Salva Kiir on the internet.” In January 2012, the New Times editor, Richard Mogga and his counterpart, Badru Mulumba, were quietly “picked up by people claiming to be police.”

The South Sudan army’s also known as SPLA has been accused of human rights abuses in Jonglei state and other areas in South Sudan where deadly ethnic clashes erupted. In September of this year, the government of South Sudan has forced a UN human Rights officer to leave the country. Sandra Beidas, a human rights investigator with the mission, was ordered by the South Sudan Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Ministry, to leave the country within 48 hours. The United States government was very concerned about South Sudan’s decision to expel a human rights officer working for the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS). This action by the government of South Sudan is evidence of how the human rights condition is deteriorating in the country.

The flight of South Sudanese journalists is well captured according to Ojja William Benjamin, a freelance journalist from the Eastern Equatoria State that, “It is becoming a habit these days that journalists are picked up and arrested by the powerful individual government officials and released without charges after spending long periods in jail. This is not acceptable! On December 31, 2011, Dr. Jok Madut Jok, an ewmployee in the government of South Sudan was beaten in Wau airport. According to Dr. Jok Madut Jok that, “I was brutally attacked, my arms tight by several men, a blow to the side of my head with the butt of a gun and several punches straight onto both of my eyes; no questions asked, not even any accusations of wrongdoing. I was tortured properly while I had quickly shown the soldiers my identity card, demonstrating that I am a senior official in the national government, undersecretary in the Ministry of Culture, but the ID thrown away and several men wrestled me to the ground.”

Late Dr. John Garang once said, “If the SPLM government will not provide basic services and security to the people under their care, then the people will throw them into the sea, and even if there is no sea around, they will definitely find one.”

Ngor Garang, Editor in Chief at The Destiny newspaper, and journalist for the online newspaper, The Sudan Tribune, was arrested on 1 November. He was summoned to meet with the Director General of South Sudan’s NSS concerning an article that had been published in The Destiny. He attended the meeting with two colleagues, who were released following a three hour interrogation. Ngor Garang remains detained without charge. On 5 November, two cars full of NSS personnel, six of whom were carrying guns, entered the offices of The Destiny and arrested one of its journalists, Dengdit Ayok. He also remains detained without charge. Both men are believed to be held in the NSS headquarters in Jebel. It is the failure of South Sudan civil society, social media and grassroots movement to put pressure on the government of South Sudan to make a meaningful institutional reform concerning human rights violations over the last 8 years.”

In conclusion, the government of South Sudan must uphold its international obligations to respect the fundamental human rights, freedom of expression, assembly, and association, and cease arrests, harassment, and detention of individuals based on their political views. The government of South Sudan must make serious reforms within it security forces because continuation of these abuses such as extrajudicial arbitrary arrest, indefinitely detention without trial, torture, harassment on the media, harsh prison conditions, restrictions on freedom of speech; restrictions on freedoms of assembly, association, prevention of international human rights observers and discrimination against women and child abuse which would lead to deterioration of human rights abuse that will damage the nation’s creditability in the international community which could result in sanctions against South Sudan and isolation from the international community.

My appeal to the South Sudanese citizens that they should demand their fundamental basic human rights to be respected by the government and to put pressure on the government to make institutional reforms and to educate society on their basic human rights and encourage South Sudanese civil society, human rights defenders, media, grassroots community, etc to stand together.

The author is a South Sudanese concerned citizen; he can be reached at jwothab@yahoo.com

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